Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control
[January 7, 1997]
RT: 83 minutes
© 1997, Fourth Floor Productions, Inc.
[From "King of Jungleland"]
"Wait a minute, son. Don't be afraid. I won't hurt you. Who are you?"
"Are you related to Beru Tremaine, the missionary, who disappeared in the jungle several years ago?"
"He was my father. But he's dead now."
"Have you been living in the jungle all of this time?"
"Since I left Joba."
"Joba! Do you mean the hidden city beyond the Mountains of Despair?"
"What do you know about that place?"
"Oh, I hear the natives mention it once in a while, but I always thought it was a legendary city."
"Yeah. They say: 'It's taboo or something.'"
When I was a kid I did want to be a wild animal trainer. I wanted to be a Clyde Beatty. A lot of kids want to be firemen, they want to be cowboys, whatever, but I wanted to be a wild animal trainer. I was really interested in it.
There was a Catholic Priest friend of ours that was a circus fan. My mother told Father Berney to have a talk with me to try to change my mind. Instead, he encouraged me, so... He told her that the world had to have lion trainers, too.
"Caeser! No! No! Come around here! Caeser! Tet, tet. Come Around. One, two, three!"
I came there after the '38 hurricane to help clean up the place. It was in December, but it was a hot day, and Mary came down with lemonade. That's how I met her, and then three years later, I married her.
Mary's father was ailing at the time and they were looking for someone that could take over... And so I took over, and whatever I though had to be done, had to be done.
When I was about 14 or 15, I was in an insect club. It was a group of children who were interested in entomology and were interested in societies: How ants and bees and wasps and termites function... And were told certain things could or couldn't be: That mammals would never be like insects... That our society and theirs were radically different...
Over twenty years went by, and a friend of mine called me in the middle of the night. And he said to me, "Ray, they found them!"
I knew exactly was he was talking about, and I said, "Where?" And he said, "In Africa. It's a thing called the naked mole-rat, and they have a society just like termites." And he explained to me that a mammal had been found, that lived underground in these complexes... The next day I ran off to a magazine editor and told them the story and said, "I have to take pictures of these animals! You have to send me to Africa!"
I like to build stuff. I sometimes ask myself, "Why do I do this...?" And I trace it back to my childhood days.
I used to try to build electronic things in a little tin shed in the backyard, and I was always trying to build computers. There was always a task that I wanted it to do, whether is was to add two numbers or play tic-tac-toe or whatever... But I just had this tremendous feeling of satisfaction when I switched the things on, the lights flashed and the machine came to life.
When I was at MIT, building these robots, there was an even more dramatic moment. One night, the physical robot actually moved. I mean, it was what I was working on for days, but it completely surprised me.
It moved! It had that magical sort of thing. It worked. And the best part was: It completely surprised me. I'd forgotten that this physical thing was what I was trying to get to work, and then it happened.
I saw Clyde Beatty, when I was a very, very small child.
He was a motion picture personality as well as a circus performer, in those days. And we didn't have television, but we did go to the movies every Saturday morning. You know, the serials... Thirteen exciting episodes. And even by the standards then, it was pretty corny, but kids loved it.
For the young boys in those days, he was an idol.
There was a parallel. Clyde and I were from the same part of the country, and I identified with him for that purpose, too.
I wanted to be Clyde Beatty.
And then I met him when I was in the Air Force, and I spent a couple of days with him... And then when I got into the business, I contacted him, and we became very close friends... very close friends...
I like to look at what everyone is doing, find some common thing that they are all assuming implicitly, but they don't even realize they are assuming, and then negate that thing.
And around that time I saw videotape of insects walking, and they weren't even stable. They were falling down all the time. So there I had the thing I was going to negate. Everyone was so implicitly assuming that a walking machine had to have the stability, so I negated that.
I said, "Let's have a walking machine that doesn't even worry about stability... That's able to fall down." So we started by building a six-legged robot: Genghis. When we started it, we weren't thinking about it walking as well as it actually walked. We were thinking about it scrambling over terrain.
And it turned out to look an awful lot like an insect... And that was pretty accidental, I think.
It's a mammal that comes from an area that's extremely stable. The temperatures are constant, underground especially.
When you don't need to stay warm the whole time, number one is: You lose your hair. So they lost their hair... Not very advantageous to be furry if you don't need to get rid of any heat. And then they lost the ability to shiver. When you're cold, you start shivering. Well, if you're never cold, you lose that.
And then they lost the ability to sweat, because they were never hot... Although it's not exactly cold-blooded like a snake is cold-blooded, since they can't regulate their temperature, we could almost call them a fully cold-blooded mammal.
One of the critical things about Genghis was: You switched it on, and it walked. The walking isn't programmed in: "I think, therefore I walk, and how I walk is: I do this, I do that." Instead, it's all these little feedback loops, and when you put them all together, the robot walks.
A well respected professor from Germany said: "But how do you tell the robot what to do," and my only answer was: "I don't tell the robot what to do... I switch it on, and it does what is in its nature."
Sometimes I feel a little like Yoda. I have to say, sort of: "Just feel the force... Don't try and control the robot, but feel how the world is going to control the robot."
To me, it's this incredible mammal that breaks the rules. A mammal that has a queen, king, soldiers, workers, all playing roles that they will play out, as far as we know, their life.
The thing about mole rats is that they're so new, that even within the knowledge that's known, there are still worlds to explore. How long do they live...? At what point can they no longer change...?
For instance, you can take a worker mole rat that's five years old, put it in a situation where there is no queen, and that worker might turn into a queen. It would be like a forty-five year old, five foot tall person being put in a situation where you needed somebody who was six foot and five growing to be six foot five.
That's an incredible thing for a mammal to do.
This is all done form memory. You know what an animal looks like, and so you just start making an animal. Like the bear, for instance. I just selected a plant that had branches approximately where I wanted them. And then you begin to cut away everything else. Keep them cut.
The head is most always the easiest part to do, because all these things want to do is grow straight up. Then, of course, the arms... You have to tie them down, so that they'll stay down.
We bring the branches up and over from one leg to the other and then criss-cross them from the front leg to the back leg. The only piece of metal in the whole thing is under the neck to hold the nose down. A lot of people [who] come here say: "We've traveled world wide, and we've never seen anything exactly like Green Animals."
Discover magazine said: "We're going to do a story on your mole-rats." And everybody at this point had heard me talking about then, "Would you like to be the photographer...?' and I said: "Yes," joyfully. So that's how it started.
After I did that article, I was invited to design an exhibit for the Philadelphia Zoo. This was about a year and a half later. And so I had the opportunity, again, to work with mole rats, this time to present them to the public in environmental chambers.
I wanted to create an environment not of glass tubes and plastic tubes such as they keep them in the laboratories for convenience sake, because that's so foreign from the visuals of where the animals live. So I was looking for something that would make you feel that you were there, and you were a guest.
You know, it's an old gag in movies. A building where half the building is falling apart and a guy is still taking a shower. Somebody's still in front of the mirror and the building is falling apart. You're getting to look at these intimate moments, because a piece of the environment has been removed so quickly that you haven't had time to be startled yet.
The house was closed for twenty years. Miss Brayton always had the idea that she would come to live there permanent.
She never married. She said, "No, there was one man that I wanted. It didn't work out, so I just won't get married."
From her bedroom Miss Brayton could look out over the garden. She'd call and she'd say: "George, don't let anybody walk in the garden. I want to see the garden before there's any footprints in the path."
She was in the garden every day. She'd come out, and she says: "Well, I want a yellow snapdragon or a pink snapdragon or red or a daisy," or she'd tell me what colors she wanted. Then she says, "If there's any way I could help you, I would help you." I said, "Well, you could be a big help to me if you picked your own flowers."
When I first started the business I saw a film of my act... I was horrified because I saw several things I was doing that could have gotten me killed.
I learned by trail and error. I made some very serious errors, too, believe me! I spent three months in the hospital in Lubbock, Texas, for an error. The error was: I wore a wristwatch. I had a wristwatch with a very good expansion band... Very good... It didn't break. I had a lion swing catch my expansion band, pull me into him. He got one claw in between my elbow bones here. He had this hand in his mouth. Fortunately, he has a broken tusk, or I would be missing a finger, today. And finally, the watch did break. I mean, the band and the watch just flew out of sight. I went in the hospital on the third of January, and I got out the fifth of April... And I have never worn a wristwatch since.
Once you got through the door and close the door, you're completely absorbed. I couldn't tell whether there was five people in the audience or five thousand, because you're completely absorbed with what you're doing.
When they come through the door, you've got about three seconds to do what we call read 'em. Are they coming after you? Are they going to their seats...? It's not the same each time. It's new every time you go in, and you have to be alert constantly.
"Bongo! Bring it up here! Bongo!"
The weather can be thirty degrees, and I come out soaking wet. Well, it's not from running around, although I do a lot of running. It's physical tension. Mental stress.
That's the bottom line. If you're not scared of them, you're in big trouble.
When we started to design the exhibits, I needed to do something that would last for a period of time. After all, if you're doing an exhibit for a zoo, you can't expect them to go out and spend many, many, many thousands of dollars and have the animals eat their way out in a week. I was looking for something that would be more permanent.
I tried concrete... And they chewed their way through concrete. And I tried plaster... And plaster was, oh my, crepe paper as far as they're concerned. They went right through plaster...
Ten or twelve percent of their musculature is in their jaws, so the amount of pressure they have when they bite is amazing... And their teeth are situated externally, so they get a huge opening of the mouth, and then they can come in and scrape a surface. So with the concrete, I don't believe they were taking out chunks of it. What they were doing was... They were scraping down until they hit one little pellet of quartz, let's say, in the concrete... And they would pop that out... and then they'd come in and take another...
They never got anything to do all day. You got 'em in a cage.
You can design a burrow and think that the mole rat's going to do great in it and have the animal perform in a totally different way. So it was very important for me to experiment with tunnel sizes, chamber sizes, chamber configurations. I thought there would be one chamber that would be a nest chamber, but it was the last chamber on the run.
In other words, you would have a tunnel and then a chamber and then another tunnel and another chamber and another tunnel. And so I thought maybe they'll eat here and they'll sleep here... You know, I had it all set up like a doll house in my own head.
I'm always telling myself stories, while I'm designing things, about how things are going to function.
I thought I had a really beautiful nest chamber at the end of this pattern and we found out that mole rats, the last chamber is used as the bathroom. We had to incorporate that new knowledge into the design of the environments that we built in the back of the exhibit. Now, we could decide where the toilet was going to be.
Did you want the public to see it...? Did you want it right up front...? You could do that. Did you want that hidden away...? Difficult to look at...? We could do that. Did you want it out of the exhibit...? We could do that.
If you hold a mole rat, it's best to hold it with your hand flat. And have some control over the animal. And always be aware of where the head is, so if they go down and they smell, that's one thing... But if they go down and they push, you want to lift the animal off. The next thing after a push would probably be a nibble to find out if they can get through there. And if it starts to dig into the palm of your hand, it will rip it right open.
All along we've been inspired by an evolutionary analogy: that inside the human brain is a reptile brain, and inside the reptile brain is a fish brain. Evolution just didn't pop out with a person fully formed.
We've had that same idea in building our robots. Let it do simple stuff, like move about, then add some more complexity to it, so it would move about without hitting things, then add some more complexity to it, so it could go about and find a soda can. But the idea is not to go back and change the earlier pieces but to have the earlier pieces run in parallel. To an observer, it appears as though the robot has intentions and has goals and is following people and chasing prey, but it's just the interaction of lots and lots of much simpler processes.
That certainly looks good enough to explain insect type behavior. Now, the sort of more radical hypotheses is: maybe that's all there is. Maybe a lot of what humans are doing could be explained this way. After all humans have evolved from simpler systems over time...
When I think about it, I can almost see myself as being made up of thousands and thousands of little agents doing stuff almost independently... But at the same time I fall back into believing the things about humans that we all believe about humans and living life that way. Otherwise, I think, if you analyze it too much, life becomes almost meaningless.
Miss Brayton says: "George, it's beautiful. But don't leave that man up there all by himself. He has to have a lady there... Can you make a lady...?" I says, "Well, yeah, I guess so." She says: "All right, make the frame, make the body, but don't bother to dress it." Well, she goes off to New York and came back with a dress and a hat.
My wife saw the hat, and the tag was hanging there... She says, "Forty four dollars for the hat, for the scarecrow." I says: "Well, she figured it was worth the forty four dollars."
The chair has four legs... Now, an animal has a one track mind, For instance, the animal is coming after you with the idea of tearing your head off... You put the chair up, and all of a sudden, he has four points of interest. He loses his original train of thought because this agitates him. He can't comprehend those four points of interest, so what he does he attacks the chair. He takes his wrath out on the chair. His mind now had been completely distracted from his original thought: "Eat the man in the white pants."
"Come in Mitch, Caeser, Bongo, Mitch!"
It's basically animal psychology. You try to keep the animal afraid of you in that he does not understand you. He does not understand that you're weaker than he is.
If you get injured during a wild animal act, you have to go ahead and finish the act. If you stop right then and leave the cage, the animal is liable to comprehend that he has hurt you, and that's it with that animal... Because physically there's no way to really stop them, except to bluff them. You can't really stop even one, if he knows his real strength. I've had them hit me and knock me clear across the ring like a Ping-Pong ball. Fortunately, I stood up, and I just go ahead with my act like nothing happened.
I had a lion one time grab me and bite me through the calf to leg, and my boot was filling up with blood, but I went ahead and finished the act and left the cage. My teeth rattled out, but you just try to ignore that...
Never let that bluff down.
Evolution spent a long time, billions of years, getting to the point of little creatures which could chase each other around, have mobility, and interact with the world in a meaningful way, apart from being an amoebae that just sits there and doesn't do much.
Once that stuff was there, all this other stuff evolved very quickly. Higher level intelligence, whatever that is, is pretty easy once you have the ability to move around, hunt, chase... They're the tough parts.
I don't believe it's possible to have a disembodied intelligence without a physical connection to reality. Everything we think, everything in our thought processes is built around being in touch with reality. Even the word "touch"...
A cockroach has thirty thousand hairs, each of which is a sensor. The most complex robot we've built has a hundred and fifty sensors, and it's just about killed us... We can't expect to do as well as animals do in the world until we get past that sensing barrier.
My favorite lion was John-John. He was an extraordinarily big lion. He weighed seven hundred fourteen pounds. Fortunately, he was good-natured.
"Way up high! John-John, take it up easy!"
He wasn't the type of animal that you could pet, but he was the type of animal that would put up with you.
"John-John, take it up! Hold it! Sit!"
His father was one of Clyde Beatty's lions, a big animal named Pharaoh.
There's nothing like the hand shears.
I've been told by several people: "Well, you're old fashioned. You want to do everything by hand. The shears are just as good." I says, "Well, for me, they're not just as good. This is the only way you can do it, and do it right."
The electric shears is all right for the straight work. You cannot use them for detail. The ears on the animal... They're all carved out. They're not just a big blob there. Every ear is carved to detail. With the electric shears, you can't do that. A little flip of the hand or something, you can lose the ear, or a horn, or if you go a little too far in, the guy lost his foot...
During the hot weather, when you have a lot of tender wood, it doesn't give you a clean cut. Then you get the sunny day, and they brown. Then your animal has that brown look.
Many people have said to me, "This is something that men do because men can't have babies themselves, and this is a way of building your own baby, if you like." But I don't actually buy that argument. As it turns out, in my lab there are more women than men.
I think that there is some deeper-seated thing which crosses the sex boundaries: of understanding life by building something that is life like...
People just come and look. You wonder what they're looking at. It's not just this little miniature sharpei with big teeth running around in a burrow. They're looking to find if there's a common ground. "Look they're doing this. Does that mean that this is going to happen...?" They're carrying a baby. Watch how the mother does it... They're constantly trying to find themselves in another social animal.
These ideas that we're developing are going to let us have robots everywhere in our world. Everything about us will become intelligent at some level. A door will have some agent imbedded in it, every door. And then when you walk up to the door, with two bags full of groceries, you'll say: "Open," and it will open.
These agents which will be imbedded in all these physical objects we have around us will be able to start eventually talking to each other. Later versions can learn about your habits, what you do in your house. Doors will open and close to control airflow. These much more intelligent systems are going to infiltrate our lives, and they'll just be there operating in the background.
For example, I get annoyed at all the fluff that accumulates on my TV screen, the dust. Well, what if you could buy twenty robots for a dollar in a little bottle...? Empty this bottle of robots onto your TV screen and while the TV is on, they absorb electrons and charge themselves up. When you switch the TV off, they come out, spread out over the screen. And they'll each scrub a little piece and then scurry off to the corner of the screen and sit there again.
Sounds crazy by today's standards, but that'll be a cost-effective way to keep your TV screen clean.
The minute they put two colonies together, they didn't come together, and you know, share a beer. They went right at it and started fighting. So obviously there had been something that separated them... A language, an odor...? Something that allowed them to identify the alien in their midst... to attack them.
They roll in their own feces: it's a way of making everybody smell the same. So it could be the subtle differences in the aroma that you carry around is enough to set you off against an enemy.
They don't urinate on each other. They urinate in the midden pile where all the feces is placed, and the individuals go there and roll in it. You'll see them kicking and rolling and shoving around in it and then turning around and going back into the nest system. They very rarely just go to the bathroom, turn around and leave.
When the young are weaned, they will literally beg for fecal matter so that they can eat it.
It's different than the hard pellets that you see the adults depositing when they're going to the bathroom; this stuff is much more undigested material.
Interesting concept to say: "Well, now I'm going to go to the bathroom, but I'm only going to expel partially digested food, so that some of the whole bacteria and protozoa that's in the fecal material, can be passed on as food."
[There's] a lot more Zen bowel movement going on than what you would normally imagine an animal having.
The nest chamber is like listening to the birds in a forest. There's constant tweets and whistles and grunts that are going on inside of the colony.
So there's a language...
For sure there's a language. And in tunnel systems, squeaks and grunts work very well.
They have their own midden chamber which is constantly turned over like you would any good midden pile... and it's kept fresh. And they also have and area where they store food so that the nuts and some of the tubers they they're fed are put away.
And they seem to dream while they sleep, because parts of the their body will twitch like a cat's do or like the way we do...
So, who knows...? Maybe they're thinking about digging... Or, you know, finding the ultimate tuber.
The only consciousness we've ever experienced is our own. I know I'm conscious, but I don't know about anyone else. I mean, I sort of infer that they're conscious in the same way that I am, but I don't know that.
But what about a horse or a cow? Or a cat or a dog? How conscious are they?
What about a chimpanzee or a gorilla?
Some people argue that consciousness arises through a language, but I'm not quite sure that I believe that. It seems to me that language is a very late thing that's come about accidentally.
You know, I sort of have this joke theory, that consciousness is put there by God, so that he has this very quick interface to find out what we're thinking about.
So he can just go in and check in on us very quickly...
One after the other.
I had a lion one time that was bothered by a peanut machine we had. It took us two or three days to figure out why the animal was acting up.
If the peanut salesman didn't turn the machine on, we were all right. But sometimes, during the middle of the lion act, he'd run out of the roasted peanuts, so he'd start the roaster up, and it was a drum affair that rolled and roasted the peanuts, and this animal would go completely out of his mind.
Once we found out what was causing this animal to act that way, we just told the peanut salesman: "Don't roast peanuts during the wild animal act."
I had a big male lion named Leo...
And one day, [in] Lincoln, Nebraska, he's headed for the door and instead of going out, he went under the stand next to the door and waited for me.
One of my assistants hollered, and I turned around just in time to catch this animal with my chair and send him out.
Now, he came within a hair of getting me, so I knew, [at] the night show, he was going to try the same thing because he had almost been successful.
And, sure enough, the night show, I started sending him out, and I stood sideways where I could just see him out of the corner of my eye. He acted like he was headed for the door and started to make a U-turn, and I went right after him. And he stopped and looked and immediately went in the cage, and he never tried it again... Because now he realized, I knew what he was up to, and there was no use to try it again.
They're all different; they're like people.
That's the problem with a wild animal act.
(Introducing the human cannonball)
Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, count together backwards: "Five... Four... Three... Two... One... Fire!"
"Come here. Come here to Daddy. Bring it here to Daddy. Watch it now! Bring it to papa."
There are always a couple of them scheming to do something.
"Let's go! Hurry up!"
I had no trouble with this animal, for like, two or three months, and all of a sudden, he blew up, and I was lucky to get out of the cage in one piece.
And finally we got them back in their traveling cages, and then the next show he came out, completely forgot it.
Never crossed his mind again.
The whole concept of stability is a concept of death.
It's part of my problem with the "Bambi" concept of natural history, where everything is beautiful and cute and benign. It's not the world; the world isn't like that at all. You're either prey, you're an enemy or you're ignored.
Think about all the islands... Island wildlife was wiped out because people could walk up to it with a stick and hit it on the head. You know, it's much easier to kill something that doesn't see you as an enemy.
And by the time they realize it, they were extinct.
In '54, half of the garden was completely destroyed.
The giraffe lost his head at that time. Miss Brayton came out [and] says: "Oh, my darling giraffe lost its head. I won't live long enough to see a head on that animal."
And I says: "Well, it's going to take three to four years, depending on how much growth we can get, and I'll have a head back on it again."
She says: "Well, I won't see a head on that because I'm only going to live one more year." Well, she was in her sixties at the time, and she lived to be ninety-four.
It's just cut and wait...
Cut and wait...
I was watching a bunch of ants carrying away little pieces of breakfast cereal. They didn't have any idea where they were going. Some ants were pulling it the wrong way. Some ants were dropping it. It was dropping on the ground. It was getting dragged, but nevertheless, that little piece of breakfast cereal started moving down the trail in the right direction. Together, they performed some global task, much bigger than the sum of the parts.
Once we thought about how bees, in beehives, and ants, in ant colonies, build big structures and do useful things, we realized we had to study how to get robots to interact. So we got a set of twenty identical robots called the R-1's, and we're trying to do experiments in group behavior, where we don't have explicit communication between the robots. They're not talking to each other. They're not negotiating with each other. Each of the robots is following a simple set of rules and is able to sense the presence of other robots... So they know: that thing over there is another one of me... Another thing of the same species.
Robot #1: EGGO
Robot #2: CINNAMON RAISON
Robot #3: ENGLISH MUFFIN
Robot #4: DARK RYE
Robot #5: BRAN
We want to study two questions. Given a particular set of rules for all these robots, what is the global behavior that emerges when you put them together...? And the other way around, if you want a group task done, how can you synthesize a set of rules that will cause that task to happen...?
I can't imagine a scenario in which a woman would be giving birth to twenty kids at a time, and she'd have two husbands, and everybody else would be walking around like robots. I don't know... the ultimate kabutz. You know, you want to have your kids and your home and your security and your pension plan, and all of this stuff, and to give all of that up completely is contrary to how our society is set up.
We wouldn't tend to say, "OK listen, you know, in this village because we've run out of food, we're only going to be able to raise one kid, we all know it, so let's kill the other 57." Can you imagine a society where that's going on...? I can't.
Culturally, what we tend to do is let everybody die.
We wrote a paper for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, on using very small robots to explore planetary surfaces. The title we came up with was: Fast, Cheap, and Out of Control: A Robot Invasion of the Solar System.
Instead of sending one 1,000-kilogram robot to explore Mars, our idea was to send a whole bunch of 1-kilogram robots, maybe one hundred to them. If you got 100 little robots, you'd be willing to try a higher risk thing with one of the robots. If you fail, and you lose that rover, it's not the end of the mission.
Maybe were looking for water sources or some other chemical. If it does find what it's looking for, its life is over...
It stops where it is, and it turns up this little corner reflector to the sky. And wherever these robots are with the little corner reflectors, you see a little sparkle. So now all the robots have accumulated where the particular chemical we're looking for is, and you get this automatic map.
The soldiers have routines and songs that are used when they're going out to protect the nest.
One individual being attacked by a snake, another individual is walling that individual off. Although the snake got one, it wouldn't be able to attack the nest. The expendability of the individual. In ideal situations, you would say, well, they would all go and try and save the individual, right? Attack the snake.
For all the workers, it safer just to say: "Well, you know, 'X' died, and we'll seal him off." The Queen will have another 22 babies, or 14 babies, or 7 babies.
You have to experience an injury. You have to experience chaos.
My fear is misjudging an animal, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Misjudging conditions outside the cage. A storm, electrical storm. Now, thunder doesn't bother them, an electrical storm does bother them.
A lion or a tiger can run 100 yards in 3 and a half seconds, and I'm in a forty-foot cage. They can nail you before you say: "Oops..."
No matter what happens, you always have a couple of them at your back. And it's always been... Always the same nightmare... One with his... One standing on his hind legs with his paws around my neck, chewing on my head.
We were playing Rockford, Illinois, and the power plants failed. I was trapped in the cage with lions and tigers all around me. I backed up to the side of the cage, and I took my stick and swung it back and forth, and every now and then, I hit something.
I knew they were coming after me.
We had one heavy wet snowstorm that weighed the animals down and got them out of shape. The camel's neck was twisted down, and it just hung there... Then the horse and rider collapsed.
It's a touchy situation. You're fighting the elements to try and get them to grow where you want them to grow, get them to do what you want them to do. If it's not one thing, it's the other...
And then, of course, the different insects that come in...They'll eat anything. If they haven't got what they like they'll take the next best thing.
It's a constant battle all the time.
In the ultimate form all of this stuff is looking at "other."
The exploring and finding of animals that had absolutely nothing to do with any control that we as a person would have; that feeling that you are in the presence of life that exists irrelevant of yourself.
That's the "other".
And the "other" isn't something to be feared.
You know people are afraid of new, different, strange, but to me it isn't anything to be feared. It's something to be wondered at, and looked at, and explored... Perhaps communicated with...
Not to sit down and have a conversation, but to take pictures of it and see if you can get the moment where the animal is actually looking at you and you feel that there is a moment of contact: I know you are... You know I am...
It's not something that happens everyday. You have to go out and look for it.
This approach to building robots will eventually lead to robots as intelligent as human beings. Whether we will be able to interact with them as we interact with other human beings, I think is more open to question... Because it's unlikely that they will be embodied in the same way we are.
They will have different physical experiences, and they will be aliens to us.
They constantly need repairing all the time. If you don't do that, they will get out of proportion. You can't control them anymore.
"Ceaser! No! Over here! Down! Down!"
I like the bear, myself, because it gives me less work. It looks just as nice during the summer months as it does during the winter months, with only two trimmings. But... It took me fifteen years to build the bear. I won't live long enough to make another bear like that one.
Only in captivity do animals get to get old.
Perhaps a queen would become infertile and would be forced out of the nest with no workers, and a bird would come along and eat her... Just as an example... Or perhaps, they're digging for a tuber... And just as they're digging for a tuber, and you're about to get that perfect mouthful, an elephant walks by and goes crunch and crunches the ground a little bit and the mole-rat's squashed.
So very few of them will probably reach old age. I haven't seen any gray haired mole rats.
Once they've established this is their cage wagon...This is their cage. This is where they eat... This is where they sleep... This is where they drink... All their creature comforts are connected with that cage. They don't particularly want to leave it.
They don't really consider themselves caged...
Outside the cage is the cage... Inside is their world.
They represent a set of concepts and ideas that were thought of only intellectually, that have now become a reality. They were a fantasy that has now become something that can be looked at.
It's going to be harder to distinguish: what is alive and what is a machine... And that boundary may start to become meaningless.
On the other hand, there may still be some distinction. We have conquered flight. We can make machines fly, but they don't fly the same way birds fly...
And that's not to pass any value judgement. You know, does a bird fly better than a 747? Well it depends on what you're trying to do.
They're just different ways of living.
Often I've called the robots that we've built: "artificial creatures." I like to think of them as prototypes towards entities which exist in the world and live in the world in the same way that animals live in the world.
They may still be useful to us... You can have a chicken which lays eggs but you don't tell the chicken, "Hey, chicken... Lay an egg everyday," you just put the chicken in a chicken coop and give it food and out comes an egg everyday.
The Zen of watching them.
They have the same fascination that you would have in looking at fish in a fish tank, or ants in an ant colony. It's constant movement... Only it's bigger, and it has more of a purpose...
It's trying to figure out what the purpose is, that interests me.
I don't expect anybody to come in and do what I did because they don't have that experience.
I was told by several professors from the different schools, "George, nobody can come in, with all the book knowledge that they've got, nobody can come in and do what you're doing."
I never really left the circus... I left traveling with the circus.
I never was completely unemployed by them. I couldn't go work for somebody else, really.
The girl we have working now, she's young and doing a very good job, but she has a lot to learn.
She has all young animals. They're growing up together and, hopefully, they'll both learn something. I hope the tigers won't learn more than she does, because that could be bad.
But I'm there, and I'll make sure nothing happens to her.
"Timba! Let's go!"
Like I say, it's a lot easier for me to do it than watch it."
I've tried understudies... I've had several understudies, but they lose interest in it. Very few of them want to do the same thing too long. They have an idea that you just come there and you trim 'em, and you just sit back and then that's it. But it's not that easy.
It's been more than half my life, and I'd hate to see anything happen to it."
For me the interest in the mole rats is a life long interest.
But in and of itself, the mole rat could have been a bird... It could have been something that looked totally different... A pig...
It's the intellectual part of it that's as stimulating as the reality. This has nothing to do with science, this is not scientific observation. I look at them strictly from the point of self-knowledge, of learning not only about them but about myself and the way that they re-act and act towards each other.
I now have a colony of mole rats in the studio which is also my home. They sit behind my desk and, when things are slow, they chirp for me.
As many people will move because they live in a rat or a mouse or a vermin infested home... For me it's a whole other issue: I actually moved with my vermin to make sure that they would always be with me, wherever I go.
Some of these researchers view building these robots as the next step in evolution... A step beyond mere human bodies which decay after seventy years.
... building something that can reproduce at a much faster rate and carry on through the life of the universe.
You always operate on the principle that they're never going to kill you. I've had two friends that were trainers who have been killed since I've been in the business.
We know it can happen.
It's like lighting matches: you can get burned if you aren't careful. But, no, I kind of figure I'll probably get killed in an automobile accident or run over by a bus...
Or, maybe, a heart attack
The problem with most wild animal trainers is that they don't retire anyway. Very few of them retire. They train lions until the day they die, and a lot of them die of heart attacks. Clyde Beatty died of cancer. [He] never smoked in his life either.
Of course, I don't think anybody ever thinks they're going to die... Really... Do they...?
But it'll happen.
Errol Morris (off screen)
Do you miss Clyde Beatty...?
Yes, I miss him...
I think I miss him just like... I think we lost part of the industry. We lost part of the circus industry when we lost him... And I don't know if there will ever be anyone of that stature left in this business.
I don't even know whether the situation would arise that we could even develop someone of that stature.
He may have been at the right place at the right time... But he was a great performer, and a great trainer. And I don't think there'll ever be another one.
Certainly not me...
Some people really believe that we are going to replace ourselves by building these machines, and carbon based life is on the way out... And that silicon-based life will be what emerges and is the next step, if you want to make things sequential, in evolution...
That may be... There may not be a place for humans in the future, if we're really successful at building these systems.
They may, in fact, be our legacy to the future.
She said: "Don't let anything happen to Green Animals. Keep Green Animals going."
I said: "Well, as long as I live, I'll take care of it."
I don't know what will happen after that.